WASHINGTON - Western corporate chiefs are continuing to pull out of an investment conference in Saudi Arabia next week, distancing themselves from questions about Riyadh's involvement in the disappearance and alleged killing of a U.S.-based Saudi journalist in Turkey.
At first, many of the business leaders reserved judgment on what happened to the missing journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. But as reports from Turkey have mounted alleging that Saudi agents tortured, killed and dismembered Khashoggi two weeks ago inside the country's consulate in Istanbul, the chief executives have announced in recent days they will not be attending the three-day Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh starting Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia has denied killing Khashoggi, a critic of the country's de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in columns he wrote for The Washington Post. It says it will disclose the results of its investigation into his disappearance.
The conference is being organized by Saudi Arabia's mammoth sovereign wealth fund and was being billed as a showcase for economic reforms advanced by the crown prince as he attempts to diversify the kingdom's economy, for decades focused on its role as the world's leading oil exporter. The gathering had been dubbed "Davos in the Desert," after the annual meeting of world economic leaders in Switzerland.
JP Morgan chief executive Jamie Dimon and the heads of two top U.S. investment firms — BlackRock and Blackstone — have dropped out of the conference. Top executives at the Ford auto manufacturing company and the MasterCard credit company have said they won't be going, while the Google internet search engine company said Tuesday that the head of its cloud computing business also would not be at the event.
The chiefs of European bankers BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse, HSBC, Standard Chartered and Societe Generale also rescinded acceptances to the conference.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who says Saudi Arabia should not be judged guilty in the incident while its investigation is being conducted, said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will decide by Friday whether to attend.